WASHINGTION – Today, U.S. Sens. Cory A. Booker (D-N.J.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), introduced the Supportive School Climate Act of 2015, legislation that would address the so-called school-to-prison pipeline by reducing suspensions, expulsions, and other overly harsh school disciplinary actions to improve youth outcomes. They were joined by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Reps. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.). The bill would give every student – especially those who face abuse, neglect, or other forms of trauma – ample opportunity to form positive and trusting relationships with adults in a school environment that is supportive of their complex needs, and would encourage the use of evidence-based strategies that promote positive behavior.
Too often, students are suspended, expelled, and arrested for minor offenses that in the past may have simply led to a visit to the principal’s office. These zero-tolerance policies have disproportionately targeted poor and minority students, particularly those with a history of abuse and neglect, or students with disabilities, and have been proven to further stigmatize children, enlarge achievement gaps, and increase rates of school drop-outs and recidivism.
“We must provide pathways for our youth to succeed and do everything possible to break the cycle of discipline and disenfranchisement,” said Booker. “This bill represents a step forward in the effort to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline and it is vital that we empower schools to promote polices that are fair and compassionate. The future of our country rests on our capacity to believe in the potential and promise of all of our young people.”
“The facts show that when we force students out of school, we’re not only sending them back to an environment far less conducive to learning, but are setting them up for failure in the long run,” said Murphy. “The system needs to change. Instead of using ineffective and unnecessarily harsh methods to change a child’s behavior, we should be developing support services for schools and educators to help our youth achieve better outcomes. The Supportive School Climate Act will give our schools the resources they need to ensure that positive school climate measures are seen as a critical part of school policy – rather than just an afterthought – and will get these kids back in the classroom and on the road to success.”
The Supportive School Climate Act would allow states to use federal education funds for positive behavioral interventions and support, as long as interested states also work to address the following:
·Ensure that school discipline policies align with civil rights laws and are applied equally to all students;
·Provide technical assistance to state and local education professionals, including training on trauma-informed approaches;
·Coordinate efforts with local education agencies, maximize reintegration of students involved with the criminal and juvenile justice systems;
·Strengthen current law that governs coordination between school systems and correctional facilities, ensuring that once kids are incarcerated, they have a meaningful opportunity to turn their lives around when released;
·Establish systems for sustained family and community engagement; and,
·Provide transparent reporting on aggregated and disaggregated data of incidences of suspensions, expulsions, disciplinary transfers and referrals, seclusion, restraint, and school based arrests at the state and local level.
The following organizations support the Supportive School Climate Act of 2015: The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Dignity in Schools Campaign, the National School Climate Center, the National Association of School Psychologists, Futures Without Violence, the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, First Focus, Public Advocacy for Kids, Opportunity Action, and the Alliance for Excellence in Education.